2006 Spring Training – Combination Ball Provides Win

Game Two: Cubs 15 – Mariners 8

Last week Dusty Baker brought up the term “Combination Ball”. I found that very interesting and wondered when we might be able to see this brand new version of the Cubs. Well Dusty and company wasted no time displaying their new philosophy. One major change I have noticed the past two days is the change in plate discipline. The Cubs have been swinging at the first pitch so much over the past two seasons….there is no way to keep count. The Cubs are taking pitches, hustling, covering first and going from first to third on a single to center…. This is only Spring Training but there have been definite improvements….

Spring Training is not about records….wins or loses. I can pretty much tell you the Cubs’ record for every year that I have been following them, but I could not do that for one single year of Spring Training. I look at the details, what the guys are doing right or wrong and if they have made any improvements in the off-season. While sometimes what happens in the spring does not carry over (Nomar last season), but sometimes it does (Derrek Lee last season).

The Cubs played the Mariners at the Peoria Sports Complex. The Mariners share this facility with the San Diego Padres. The park was very nice, clean and modern but I will have to say very cold and not fan friendly. I felt like I was at a regular baseball game in one of those new retro stadiums….it looked like Spring Training, but it clearly was not.

The Cubs were in their away blues and here is the lineup and box score from Cubs.com:

Pierre – CF
Cedeno – SS
Ramirez – 3B
Brandon Sing – 1B
Marquis Grissom – LF
Jones – RF
Neifi Perez – 2B
Walker – DH
Dennis Anderson – C

Juan Pierre’s numbers may not look to good over the first two games (.167) but he is taking pitches and making the opposing pitcher work to start the games. Pierre took the first three offerings from former Cub Jamie Moyer before he popped out to left. But what impressed me was that on an obvious out in a Spring Training game, Pierre still ran it out and was almost to second base before the out was recorded. Play like this will pay dividends once the season starts and could end up being contagious.

Glendon Rusch started the game for the Cubbies and retired the first 2 batters he faced, both strikeouts and looked very good. Raul Ibanez stepped in and parked a solo shot to left center field on a pitch right down the middle. Rusch fell behind Sexton (2-1) before he doubled to right. Rusch looked like he lost his confidence after the homer to Ibanez, but he settled down and got Carl Everett to ground out to first. Rusch looked a lot better in the 2nd inning and was credited with the win.

Marquis Grissom looked better at the plate than in the field. He misplayed several balls in the outfield and a couple led to hits by the Mariners. Grissom did lead off the 2nd inning with a single and went to third on a hit and run with Jacque Jones. Jones went 3 for 3 and stayed back on the hit and run, hitting the ball up the middle into centerfield. Jones has been very impressive in his first two games as a Cub; he is hitting .750 and is playing well in the field. His hustle and good throw stopped a run from scoring later in the ballgame. Jones even went from first to third in the 3rd inning on a single to center by Neifi Perez….he just keeps hustling.

Neifi is still being Neifi….with Grissom on third and no outs; Neifi reached for a very bad pitch and popped up in foul territory. Todd Walker came through with a sacrifice fly to score Grissom; one of his 3 RBI’s on Friday. This is one area the Cubs must continue to improve on from last season, runners in scoring position with less than two outs and failing to score.

Aramis Ramirez had another good day (3-3, 1 RBI and 2 runs scored, hitting .833). The home run he hit in the 3rd was unbelievable. He reached out and pulled a ball that was not anywhere near the strike zone. On a couple of occasions I did see him limping a little.

And then there was Brandon Sing. What a day he had, 2 for 3, 2 home runs and 3 RBI’s. I was behind the Cubs dugout and had a very good view of both home runs. Sing killed those 2 pitches. After the second blast, the crowd was asking; “Who is this guy?”…. Well Andy MacPhail and Jim Hendry both told them. Hendry, MacPhail and Scott Nelson (Ed Lynch joined them later in the ballgame) were three rows in front of me and when Sing hit the second home run the smile on those two could have been seen all the way back to Chicago. They looked like proud parents….it was great. I did have the chance to briefly speak with Andy MacPhail, but was unable to speak with Jim Hendry. Both were very interactive with the crowd, but believe me, had I known about Woody at the time, I might have tried a little harder. Hendry told the crowd, “He’s got a lot of power.” One gentleman asked where he came from and Hendry replied, “We drafted him and he’s from Joliet.”

Todd Wellemeyer did not do anything to help his cause on Friday. Wellemeyer gave up 5 runs, all earned, on 8 hits in 2 innings and looked very bad doing so. He was missing location badly. At one point I thought one was going all the way to the backstop when Dennis Anderson was setup inside and Wellemeyer threw one all the way outside. Was it a mix up or a wild pitch? I choose the latter. Wellemeyer had a terrible 3rd inning and at one point I thought about old #99. Obviously Hendry and MacPhail’s mood quickly changed and there was some pretty intense conversation for a while….if I was just a little closer. Wellemeyer looked very unsure of himself and his abilities and he looked like he was trying to aim the ball….it looked more like batting practice than a game. He has to show major improvement over Friday’s outing to make this team.

Dusty played more of his team on Friday. Augie Ojeda played for the first time and he still hustles. Scott Moore and Michael Restovich entered the game in the 5th, but the most impressive substitution was Matt Murton. The Mariners made a pitching change in the middle of the inning. Once Rafael Soriano was announced Matt Murton went to Gene Clines and got the new pitcher’s scouting report. Although Murton hit a long fly out to left, he is trying to learn. Here are the other substitutions in the 5th: Buck Coats, Jerry Hairston, Jr., Angel Pagan, Casey Kopitzke and Carmen Pignatiello took over on the mound. Pignatiello did well, after giving up a walk to Matt Lawton; he got a double play to end the inning.

Here are the other Cubs to make appearances on Friday: Jake Fox, Bobby Brownlie, Ryan Theriot, Carlos Marmol, Geovany Soto, Felix Pie, Casey McGehee, Brian Dopirak and Les Walrond. Both Brownlie and Marmol pitched well, although Marmol had some control problems walking two.

If Combination Ball equals winning ball come April 3rd….I’m all for it.

Game Three – Saturday against the Giants in Scottsdale

Jerome Williams vs. Jason Schmidt at 2:05 pm C.S.T.

This will be a good test for the Cubs offense; Schmidt is a very good pitcher and one of the best when he is healthy. Check back on Saturday for game notes and a new photo gallery.

Enjoy the photo gallery and until tomorrow….

Quote of the Day

"When you play, play hard; when you work, don’t play at all." – Theodore Roosevelt